Friend Dog Studios and a Semester Abroad

Hello wonderful patron types!

You’ve probably noticed we haven’t made a lot of stuff lately. Like. Hardly anything at all this year. But you’d be WRONG to notice that, because we HAVE been making stuff! It just hasn’t been…internet stuff.

We recently released our first video in a while chronicling our nightmare move to our new apartment/workspace in Chicago (it’s here if you haven’t seen it yet). That move came right smack dab in the middle of a whole lot of other chaos, most of which has revolved around a little musical called The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe.

Lefty & Crabbe is a musical comedy we originally created for the 2015 Kansas City Fringe Festival. It’s lightning-quick story about a vaudeville duo trying to navigate their way through the changing landscape of entertainment during the rise of Hollywood. Since its' original conception we’ve continued to work on it and produce it off and on, in partnership with The Living Room Theatre in KC and now the Underscore Theatre Company in Chicago. At the end of 2018, we faced a tall order. I’ll spare you the complexities that led to this, but basically, we had agreed to commit the first half of the new year almost entirely to this one project. So, here’s what we’ve been up to:

• January: do rewrites for/oversee the production of a two-week workshop of the show in Chicago
• February: use workshop feedback to do more rewrites
March: travel to KC for a few weeks to oversee further tweaks at the start of the rehearsal process for a full production in Kansas City
April: complete fundraising efforts in order to house out of town collaborators for the upcoming Chicago production
May: further writing tweaks. KC production closes, rehearsals in Chicago start two days later
June: Chicago production opens (Brian and I are both in it)

And that brings us to now, July 9th. The production will be wrapping up just a few days from now, and then it’ll be time to take a deep breath and decide what comes next.

We’re truly grateful to you for your continued support, be it online, in person at one of our live shows, or both! We feel incredibly lucky to have had the crazy half a year we’ve experienced so far. Here’s to another!

- Ben


Below is a little gallery of some production photos from the Chicago show, accompanied by some of the great press quotes we’ve been getting! If you live in Chicago, I’d say be sure to catch closing weekend, but it’s all sold out!

For more information about the show, visit leftyandcrabbe.com

Brian asks himself "Where do we go from here?"

Our Patreon page promises that this blog will feature “the gritty reality,” the “latest and realest scoop there is.” So it’s Real Talk Time.

(And I should pause here to say that I have nothing but gratitude for all we’ve been given over the years” so much support, so many opportunities, and so much luck. So if I sound ungrateful, it’s because I have a passion for honoring those investments and really making good)

I have so many ideas about how Friend Dog Studios could be expanded that it's kind of maddening. We've got a nice portfolio of work, a growing followership and patron base, plus some baller network contacts in entertainment, social media, production, etc. But I don't have the experience in business to form a plan for growth or to figure out if that plan would work. I’m working three jobs, writing two musicals, looking for an agent, going to auditions, and living in an apartment that is almost literally falling apart around me. It’s hard to find the space to really work through those things. The space to write a blog about them? Sure. But the actual work? Sounds hard :/

On the content side, we’ve got ideas coming out our ears. But the finances and the staffing are beyond our expertise. It's all well and good to dream about the things we want to make, but we know so many people who have started creative enterprises without thinking about the financial viability, and neither of us want to pour years of our life into something just to learn “the hard way.” So the idea of quitting it all, maybe getting a startup loan, and going at this thing whole-hog seems romantic, but foolhardy.

So take it step by step, right? Don’t try to manifest the whole vision all at once: set up a 5-year plan; start small to prove the concept; re-evaluate along the way. But even that is difficult given that the core of the plan as it exists now is creative-driven, not market-driven. I have too many things to say and too much love for the craft to ever keep my focus squarely on the bottom line. I’d like to believe “if you build it, they will come,” but… you know… what if Ray just liked baseball and was prone to wishful thinking? It’s field of dreams, not yield of dreams.

But throw away the doubts! If by force of will I could switch gears from creative pursuits to the day-to-day operation a content company and then ALSO magically become a kick-ass businessperson, would I have lost the forest for the trees? Would I find myself so market-driven and focused on administration that I wasn’t making what I wanted to make, or living how I wanted to live?

Boy, I wish some kind of amazing business partner would appear from under my desk and spirit us away to a land of long-term financial viability (I know, that’s immature, unrealistic and honestly have I mentioned I’m a white man?)

But that’s what I dream of: a profitable entity that allows us to subsidize short-term creative goals, hire talent we believe in and produce world-changing works of art, opinion, activism and entertainment.

So that's what's floating around in my head this evening: a lot of hopes and dreams. Any advice?

-Brian

Wow GOP Jesus Wow

Damn, y’all. This thing went well.

Especially considering that in September, we posted a video of Brian just basically saying “this video won’t happen.”

We’re trying to figure out what’s next for us. We are inching ever closer to a world where we could make Friend Dog Studios a self-sustaining enterprise, hire some part-time help on producing, editing and social media, but we don’t want to jump into that without proper planning.

There will be further updates as events develop, but for the moment I have to go to a rehearsal.

Really proud of you and us and everything. See you soon!

Welcome to the Blog! or, A History of the Friend Dogs

Hey Patrons! Ben here.

You are among the few, the proud, the *very first* viewers of our behind-the-scenes blog. This blog is set up only for you. Only you have the link, and indexing is turned off so it shouldn't show up even on search engines. It's just a special chat between us and you. So have a seat. Grab a beer. Take your socks off. I dunno. Just want you to be comfy.

This is a bit of a longer post. I'll provide a tl;dr at the bottom, but for anyone unfamiliar with our history, or who is interested in comedy writing and the like, I thought you might enjoy a little look into what got us here.

In January of 2015, following a string of popular improv shows we'd performed as a duo in Kansas City, Brian and I released the pilot episode of a web series based on alt-universe versions of ourselves. Our duo was called "Dog & Friend Dog," and so was the series. It was weird. We had fun showing it off at a couple of public screenings and said we'd make more eventually.

On set for our "pilot."

On set for our "pilot."

In September 2015, we officially launched Friend Dog Studios with our friend Seth Macchi. We made a little video about being roommates with God. We made the second episode of our web series. Our friends chuckled and our moms said good job.

One month into this project, we made a Trump video. Mind you, at this point, the man didn't even have the nomination, and most of us were still relatively sure we lived in a sane universe where he'd never come close. Our take on him was that if you just close your eyes and listen to him talk, it's indistinguishable from the drunken babble of your local neighborhood booze hound.

trump_screen_shot__custom_.jpg

On an October morning, sitting on our front deck (we all lived together at the time), we shot a poorly white-balanced sequence of Brian lip-syncing Trump sound bites to Seth. If I remember correctly, I spent the latter part of the day editing it together and we launched it the following morning.

It exploded.

I think we spent the entire day excitedly watching the views and shares pile up. It was a decent success on youtube, but facebook is where it really thrived. Within a week or so I can't even tell you how many millions of views had accrued - especially when you factor in the copies that other pages decided to post without permission (lookin' at you, Occupy Democrats. Ya dicks.)

If you haven't experienced something like this, let me tell you, it's RIDICULOUS. We weren't some big company. Despite our name, we didn't have a studio to speak of. We had no staff, no nothing.  And suddenly the three of us are fielding phone calls and doing interviews and sifting through piles of emails from people who, for better or for worse, saw something popular and wanted on board. Did you know there's an entire industry of companies that just find viral videos and manage the licensing rights for a fee? We sure as hell didn't. But we found out quick. Within hours of launch we were in a bidding war with two such companies. We had absolutely no idea if we were making the right call. It was all so exciting, but overwhelming. Intense.

Aggregator sites were running with it. We were getting mentioned in publications like The Atlantic. We made a development deal with another company as a direct result of this video. I can't go into detail but suffice it to say that series was never released and served as just one of several learning experiences in the wake of all this. Personally, I wasn't sure if this was the start of a new chapter or if we'd simply peaked early and that would be the end of it.

We kept on making content and posting it regularly. We set goals on Patreon that were ENTIRELY too low and over-promised out of a general lack of ever-having-done-this-before. We went from committing to a new video every two weeks, to a video per week, to a video AND a podcast per week. Mind you, none of us had cloned ourselves.

Thumbnail from one of our more modest hits, "Honest Preacher."

Thumbnail from one of our more modest hits, "Honest Preacher."

We made dozens more videos. Some of them become moderate hits, some fan favorites, some personal favorites. We continued to make episodes of the Drunk Trump series, which remained popular but never again hit as big as the original, which came as no surprise.

On set for one of my favorites, "The Fancy Butt."

On set for one of my favorites, "The Fancy Butt."

Eventually, our promised release schedule and over-zealous Patreon perks became too much to handle, especially since we all had to work other jobs to pay the bills. We had to slow down, but we kept on creating, because we loved it, and we loved our fans, which were growing in number all the time.

After about a year of this, we made a video called 2016: The Movie (Trailer). To clear up any confusion, there is no movie. The fake trailer is the extent of the concept. The concept being a horror flick in which a personification of the year 2016 is the monster, running around killing off celebrities and causing political mayhem. It was a cute idea. As had happened several times before, we were lucky as hell and got an incredible crew on board to help despite our measly budget.

We had another explosion on our hands.

The success of this video dwarfed our first viral hit, which I'd become convinced we'd never even match again. I'll spare you the details except to say that this took over our lives for a solid four days after launch. We posted it, fittingly, shortly before the end of the year, and it ran wild into early January. I attribute a lot of the success of this piece to the stellar production quality provided by The Vetter Brothers and their team. Having been down this road before, it was a little easier this time to just sit back and enjoy the ride, not worrying so much about what it did or didn't mean for the future.

Production still from one of our musicals,  The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe

Production still from one of our musicals, The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe

You might think this is the part where we put pedal to the metal and really doubled down on our online content creation. But the truth is, we were a little burned out. Plus, we had other professional opportunities we were eager to explore. Over the next year and a half, we weren't posting as much. We'd create something new every now and then, including some stuff I'm really quite proud of. But a large portion of our efforts during this time were dedicated to the creation and production of two original musical comedies, which is a whole other blog post.

Cut to this summer, 2018. Brian and I are living in Chicago. Seth is in Colorado, taking a hiatus from the entertainment world. We get the itch to start making for our online audience again. Consistently. Earnestly. Learning from experience, we paced ourselves. We adjusted our patreon perks and goals to be more manageable. We adopted a "season" approach, the idea being we make several episodes, take a break, and decide when to renew ourselves for the next one. And we're having a blast again.

All of this, ALL OF IT, is only possible because of you. We have been blown away at every step by the support and generosity of our fans and audience, ESPECIALLY our patrons. We're actors. Writers. Comedians. We're dudes who chose to dive into just about the most uncertain careers you can pick, and we did it because, well, speaking for myself, I never felt I really had a choice. I had to do this. I have to do this. It's the only thing that makes any sense to me. And even though, at times, it's hard as hell, having people like you chipping in so that I can be a part of making something for us all to enjoy, that's about enough to make me feel invincible.

Thank you. Thank you all.

Here's to our futures. Whatever they hold.

Ok, now I gotta get back to making this Alex Jones video.

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tl;dr we made videos and now we're making videos again thank you